A bunch of Lindy Hoppers sent themselves to Coventry for a great time.
Steve Mitchell and Virginie were the stars of JazzJive's Lindy Hop weekend in Coventry's Leofric Hotel, known to some for its staging of The Coventry Jazz Festival in the past few years. It was Steve's first visit to the UK since his appearance at The Swingmasters' Jam in August 1994.
Steve and Virginie were joined on the teaching staff by Julie Oram and Porl Smith of Jitterbugs, and Angela Andrew. All teachers taught at all levels, so even the beginners got the benefit of the S&V way of dancing, unlike this year's Herrang, where the organisers kept them to the advanced classes.
All three days started with a Steve Mitchell jazz class, danced to Ella Fitzgerald singing Shiny Stockings. The emphasis of the routine was to align the movement with the vocal, rather than the beat, echoing the points that Dawn Hampton had made during her visit earlier this year.
The steps were fairly straightforward, a point that became particularly evident when Steve would recite part of it as "Step step step step step". But the way in which they were put together and opportunities they provided to improvise and work around them turned it into something special.
As so many of the Saturday morning class had not arrived in time for the Friday afternoon start, Steve went over the same part again, only adding some new moves on Sunday. A definite wake-up call for those still sleepy was the strangulated way in which he reproduced the vocal line. If Ella Fitzgerald were alive today she'd be spinning in her grave. Although he only got a short way through the routine, it proved very popular, with little groups practising in corners at every available opportunity.
For those who have never enjoyed an S&V class, it's an education in the subtleties and nuances of lead and follow. Yes, you'll get some new steps, but more importantly, you'll get a different way of dancing. And on top of that, there's the fun and humour. When Virginie was explaining how Steve provided her with a frame to work within, she described it as a house. "So Steve gives me a house to work in," she said. "House?" Steve looked incredulous. "I ain't giving you no house! You ain't getting' the house!"
They have only been teaching together for a couple of years, but they are already one of the most popular couples on the international teaching circuit. A large part of that is down to their personalities: Virginie has a touch of that Rosie Perez action, and of course Steve has the whole Steve Mitchell thing going for him.
Steve Mitchell takes a stroll
Theresa and Gloria from Spain. Cheer up, girls.
Normally you expect the first afternoon of an swing dance event to be mainly registration, settling in and a welcome dance. No time for that here. After the Friday jazz class at 4pm, there were a further two 80-minute classes to attend, leaving only an hour to get showered, changed, fed and ready for the 9pm start.
Except of course, that this is a JazzJive event, so everything is fairly flexible and very friendly. "We'll start a bit later and we'll play while people still want to dance" was organiser James Hamilton's view.
The opening night dance was a DJ only affair, with Gary Boon on the decks. The Lady Godiva ballroom at The Leofric has a marvellous sprung wooden dance floor, and there were more than enough people there on the first night to fill it. Fortunately, no one decided to wear a Lady Godiva costume, although booty was shaken in abundance. The evening ran through to 1am, with some hip hop creeping into the repertoire.
It's always a bonus having an event like this in a hotel, since there is way less traipsing around between classes and you can always pop back to your room without leaving the building. Another good call was to assign levels to particular rooms. There were classes at beginner, intermediate and advanced level, and it was the teachers that moved, instead of the students.
The only downside to this was that the advanced class had the smallest room, and there was no ventilation. Any attempts to open the doors for a slight through breeze were stamped upon by the duty manager with mutterings of "fire regulations".
The Leofric also came across with the goodies in the food stakes. Instead of having to hunt around the gastronomic delights of Coventry, the restaurant provided excellent lunch and evening buffets for a fiver or less. As breakfast was included in the bargain £25-a-night accommodation cost and parking in the multi-storey next door was free, it was the Lindy Hopper's motherlode - lots of dancing at very little expense!
Imelda: No news yet on the shoe collection.
Blaire, Virginie, Steve, Janna and Judy
Saturday night was posh frocks time, with the whole ballroom area opened up and Blue Harlem on stage. They have become regulars at the venue in recent years, having appeared at the 1999 and 2001 Coventry Jazz Festivals.
This time they had their new singer with them. Aisha Khan's decision to explore other avenues left the band in need of a new vocalist. The place has been filled by Imelda Clabby, who definitely looks and sounds the part. In a shimmering evening dress and a flower in her hair, she took to the BH repertoire effortlessly. Her appearances were interspersed with the fine swing that the band produces on its own during numbers like One O'clock Jump, Flying Home and 9.20 Special.
Also appearing behind the decks, on the dance floor and probably in quite a few of the videos that people were filming from the sidelines was Ronnie Slide, up from London for the evening and loving it. His eclectic mix of known classics played by unusual artists was best demonstrated when he played a swing version of The Police song "Walking On The Moon" - sung by actor Jimmy Nail!
Despite the late night, everyone was up for class on Sunday morning, helped by the 10am start for the jazz class - and if you didn't fancy that, you only had to be ready for 11 for the regular classes. A change in the timetable meant that lunch was early and there were two more classes in the afternoon. The weekend ended with a highly sociable tea dance in the ballroom, complete with cake, sandwiches - and of course tea.
When an event goes this well and proves as popular as this one, you have to ask - why wasn't it done before? Part of the answer lies in the huge amount of organising involved, and so it was time to give it up big style for James and Bridget Hamilton. Bridget seemed to be everywhere, checking out classes, registering the arrivals, and even auditioning them to decide the class level! All this with baby Noah crawling around somewhere and only a matter of weeks to go before the new arrival.
By general consent amongst the dancers, the weekend was very enjoyable. The main concern at the end was to get Steve and Virginie back to England as soon as possible. Both were keen to return, although it would help if the next event is also near a golf course, as Steve even brought his clubs for this short visit. One thing's for sure - there shouldn't be too much trouble getting people to attend.
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